Behind Enemy Lines: Packers hope to keep playoff hopes alive v. Rams

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - NOVEMBER 28: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to pass the ball against the Los Angeles Rams in the second half at Lambeau Field on November 28, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - NOVEMBER 28: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to pass the ball against the Los Angeles Rams in the second half at Lambeau Field on November 28, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

The Packers’ playoff hopes are still alive, and the path to making it looks more clear as of late with Green Bay getting some help. However, all the help in the world doesn’t much matter if the Packers don’t take care of their own business and win on Monday Night against the Rams.

Similarly to the Packers, the Rams’ season has gone off the rails a bit–going from winning the Super Bowl Champions to having a 4-9 record, with numerous injuries being a big reason why.

To help catch us up on how the Rams’ season has gone up to this point, along with what to expect on Monday, Bret Stuter of Ramblin’ Fan was kind enough to answer five of my questions, providing us with some excellent insight into the Packers’ next opponent. As always, I provided some of my thoughts along the way.

From Super Bowl Champions to likely missing the playoffs. What has gone wrong this season?

Bret: In a word? Injuries. Well, let me elaborate. The LA Rams played well into the midst of February 2022, and as is the case for many NFL players who compete in the post-season, minor injuries that needed medical intervention to correct was delayed. Those medical procedures needed to clean up problems for LA Rams veterans were further complicated when the team’s 2022 rookie class lost rookie OL Logan Bruss and rookie RB Kyren Williams to start the season. That was complicated by the suspensions of DT Bobby Brown and TE Brycen Hopkins. Then almost every week, the Rams roster began to suffer injuries to key players.

We are not talking about one injury every third or fourth week. The Rams’ post-game injury reports typically listed multiple injuries, and at least one offensive lineman among the injured players. The Rams got so desperate that they found it necessary to start multiple offensive linemen who were not even on the roster on opening day. Per, the Rams have played 14 different offensive linemen through 12 games. And for the first time this season, the Rams started the same five offensive linemen in two consecutive weeks.

The Rams’ injuries have not been limited to offensive linemen. Starting QB Matthew Stafford was placed into the NFL concussion protocol twice, the second occasion immediately following his return. He has been reported with a bruised spinal cord, and the Rams have shut him down for the rest of the season. He joins the Rams’ top two WRs in Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson as out for the season. The Rams have also lost DT A’Shawn Robison for the season, and DL Aaron Donald for several weeks.

The Rams have 14 players on Injured Reserve but have stopped assigning injured players to that designation because the team exhausted the option to restore IR players to the active roster weeks ago.  The team’s injury report will list multiple players as out for this game as a result.

Thoughts: While not to the same degree as the Rams, the Packers have dealt with injuries at various points in the season as well, and especially early on, those injuries to the offensive line and wide receiver group had a big impact on performance–not to mention that Green Bay has had a few key starters of their own put on IR and Aaron Rodgers has been dealing with a thumb injury.

However, coming off the bye week, the Packers look to be the healthiest they have been in a while. Elgton Jenkins and David Bakhtiari were the only players who didn’t participate on Thursday’s, while Romeo Doubs and Rodgers were full participants. From the sounds of it, Bakhtiari won’t be available, but Jenkins missing a day of practice during the week has been quite normal. It would appear that from a health standpoint, the bye week did wonders.

Despite the things that have gone wrong, what has gone well or is the strength of this Rams team?

Bret: Now that the LA Rams have surrendered to their fate for this season, the surprising strength of this Rams team is just how much young talent this Rams team had on the bench. The Rams had thin depth at outside linebacker, so they cross-trained a rather athletic defensive lineman to play in a two-point stance, and he has since played quite well. But what we have found is that this team has been resilient on defense, and opportunistic on offense.  There are a lot of pent-up and ambitious young football players on the Rams roster, and from what we’ve seen, they are gaining confidence as they gain experience and start to record some meaningful statistics.

The Rams have been reeling with a new offensive line configuration, and new secondaries, and they do not even have a dependable group of offensive skill players each week with which to build upon from the previous week’s positives. And so, the Rams have been forced to abandon their bread-and-butter plays of QB Matthew Stafford throwing to WR Cooper Kupp, and expanding the pass distributions to WRs like Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, Van Jefferson, and even running with Cam Akers and Kyren Williams.

Thoughts: Although it’s been a rough season, the Rams still have Aaron Donald and a very good run defense that rank among the best in DVOA and yards per attempt allowed. Donald suffered an ankle injury against Kansas City and missed the game against Las Vegas last week, where the Raiders had success on the ground. Donald would then not participate in Thursday’s practice, and his status for Monday is still unknown, although, as LaFleur said, the Packers would be “fools” not to prepare for him.

It goes without saying, but Donald’s status will have a major impact on the game. While Christian Watson’s emergence has been crucial to the Packers’ success, Adam Stenavich said moving the ball begins with the run game. In past games where Green Bay has had to lean heavily on the passing game, things haven’t turned out well. So if Donald plays and it’s tough sledding on the ground, can the passing game carry Green Bay? Or, on the flip side, if Donald is out and the run game gets going, can the Rams slow the Packers? That complimentary combination of the run game and Watson has been tough to stop.

Who is one player on offense and one on defense that Packers fans may not be familiar with but could make a big impact on Monday night?

Bret: There are so many who truly deserve to be called out for significant and unexpected production. I think two names for players who could have big games on Monday Night Football start with wide receiver Tutu Atwell on offense. More than just a one-trick pony who stretches defenses, Atwell proved against the Las Vegas Raiders that he has the ability to move the chains, be a possession type of receiver, and continue to keep the offense on the field. Atwell is a small but swift receiver whose game is quite similar to that of Arizona Cardinals WR Marquise Brown.

On defense, the Rams love the play of inside linebacker Ernest Jones and for good reason. Jones may not be at the level of All-Pro ILB Bobby Wagner, but he is learning rapidly from his teammate and mentor, and he shows up at key moments in the game with a huge stop, or even to create a turnover. He is the second leading tackler on the Rams, and that is not just from cleaning up from Bobby Wagner’s leftovers. He is a bona fide defensive player who gets better with each game.

Thoughts: Of Atwell’s 11 receptions this season, five came last week against Las Vegas. Perhaps he will become a favorite target of Mayfield’s with Cooper Kupp sidelined. He lined up primarily in the slot last week, which would put Keisean Nixon on him, but when on the boundary, that could be a matchup for Jaire Alexander.

Jones, meanwhile, has been an incredibly reliable tackler at the linebacker position, totaling 87 tackles this season while missing just 5.4% of them, according to PFF ($$). That sound tackling has also helped limit pass-catchers while in coverage to only 8.2 yards per catch and also made him a big factor in the run game, where Jones ranks 17th among all linebackers in stops.

If the Rams are going to win, what does that path to victory look like for them?

Bret: That is a tough question to answer because the team has been so incredibly inconsistent in all three phases of the game: Offense, defense, and special teams. But if this team is going to win, the team will need almost perfect execution from all three phases. What does that look like? On defense, the Rams will need to cause plenty of three downs and punts. That will give the offense a chance to warm up. If the Packers score quickly, the Rams have proven to abandon the running game and commit to a pass-centric offense that fools nobody and strains the already outmanned offensive line to the point where QB sacks start to pile up quickly.

To win, the Rams will need to keep this one a low-scoring game and must run a balanced offense. The Rams will need to move the ball through the air and on the ground and put points on the board if they get into the Red Zone. On defense, the Rams must play outstanding run defense and somehow find a way to generate enough pass rush to make the venerable Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable. On special teams, the Rams must cover both kickoffs and punts like their lives depend on it.

Thoughts: Over the last month, the Packers’ run-pass split each week has been somewhat balanced, although because the strength of the Rams’ defense is how they defend the run, I won’t be surprised if we see Green Bay a bit more pass-heavy this week–although, as already mentioned, Donald’s status will have a big impact on that, and relying more on the pass doesn’t mean becoming one-dimensional either. The Rams’ secondary ranks 22nd in yards per attempt allowed, 23rd by pass DVOA, and they’ve struggled to defend the deep ball at times.

When it comes to the Packers’ defense, they will be up against a rushing offense that has simply not been good this season, and Mayfield making his second appearance with the Rams. Ultimatley, Green Bay needs to limit the explosive plays and force LA to put together long scoring drives. Given how the season has gone for the Rams, that likely isn’t a sustainable approach.

What is your prediction for Monday’s game? What is the score, and how do you see things playing out?

Wow, I’d probably do a better job if I just threw darts at the dartboard while blindfolded. But here goes:

The LA Rams have not rushed well so far this season, but that could change. The Rams rushed 22 times for 71 yards against the Raiders, but running backs accounted for only 16 rushes for 66 yards. Teams that have beaten the Packers so far this season have run the football well.  Having said that, the Rams are becoming more and more confident in the ability of rookie RB Kyren Williams to gain yards and move the chains. That could mean a split load of about 10 carries for each Rams RB Cam Akers and Kyren Williams. Between the pair, they should be able to generate 100 yards or so on the ground.

The Rams will need every yard of rushing offense they can get. With temperatures projected at game time to plummet to single digits, the ground and the football will feel like concrete.

Of course, the Green Bay Packers live and play in this stuff all the time, which truly amplifies any home-field advantage. I can see the Packers strolling out to a 7-0 lead, and entering the locker room at halftime content with a 7-3 lead.  In the second half, the Packers could even extend their lead to two scores before the Rams rally back once more. Another miraculous comeback victory from newly arrived QB Baker Mayfield? Why not. The Rams find a way to put up the last 14 points in this one, squeaking by with a 17-14 victory on the road at Lambeau Field.

What better way to get the NFL talking about QB Baker Mayfield again, right?

Final Score:

LA Rams 17
GB Packers 14

Thoughts: Coming off their bye week, looking much healthier, and playing at home in very cold temperatures. Before the Packers even step on the field on Monday Night, they already have several things going their way. The offense has found its groove a bit, and with the return of Romeo Doubs, I think they are able to find success again–especially if Donald doesn’t play. The Green Bay defense will probably give one of those performances where it doesn’t look great at times, but ultimately they get the stops when needed.

Prediction: Packers 24 – Rams 17